Edey Does It: Projecting Zach Edey as an NBA Prospect
FEATURING: Purdue Boilermaker Zach Edey
Edey Does It
Zach Edey finds himself testing the waters after a dominant individual season. The 7’4”, 305-pound prospect from Toronto was able to win the 2022-2023 AP Player of the Year while being the catalyst behind the Purdue Boilermakers making it to the NCAA Tournament as a one seed. Despite being unceremoniously bounced out of the first round by the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, Edey made significant strides from being “just a good college player” to “are we sure he isn’t an NBA player?” this year. That is a huge jump in perception.
Pun intended on the “huge” part of the previous comment. Before getting into the numbers and the skillset, it’s important that the bio is brought into the light. Zach played for the acclaimed IMG Academy, graduating following the 2019-2020 season. His teammates were players like Jalen Johnson, Jaden Springer, Mark Williams, Moussa Diabate, Jarace Walker, Matthew Murrell, and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield. Perhaps getting lost on an incredibly deep roster, Edey went unranked in the RSCI Top 100 in the 2020 class, while Johnson, Springer, Williams, and Murrell were all within the Top 45.
Edey, meanwhile, was given scholarship opportunities from a few different universities. Schools like Baylor, Minnesota, Tulane, and Western Kentucky came calling, but Zach committed to Purdue because of the school’s success with big men. That success has continued with Edey. As a freshman, Zach was given about 15 MPG to play and put up just under 9 PPG on about 5 FGAs per game, over 4 RPG, and over 1 BPG. On a team with Trevion Williams, Edey upped his MPG to 19, his PPG to 14.4, his RPG to 7.7, and his BPG to 1.2—all on 64.8 FG%.
This year, Zach put up 22.3 PPG on 14.1 FGA per game, 12.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG, and 1.5 APG. Edey’s strength and conditioning proved vital to the Boilermaker program and their success. With more usage and a larger role, Zach was able to maintain a field goal percentage over 60% this season. That production has been something that has allowed him to stand out above the crowd—as if he needed any help with that—as a draft prospect. With some prospects proving to be more hypothetical, Edey is a player that gives more of a surface-level understanding as to the type of player he will be. While some may be disenchanted with that, NBA teams find success based on a balance of base hits combined with home runs.
Production is paramount for some prospects. Considering Edey’s skill set, these words ring more true. Purdue lived and died with Zach every game. No matter who was the Robin, Edey was Batman. As is the case with many Batman story arcs, sometimes it was Batman and nobody else. As we fire up the BartTorvik Machine, we’ll take a look at how Zach sets himself apart among his current peers, along with others that have come before him. Let’s look at how his BT profile establishes a baseline; you know the drill.
Minutes Percentage- 76.7
Offensive Rating- 125.9
Usage Percentage- 32.6
Effective Field Goal Percentage- 60.7
True Shooting Percentage- 63.9
Offensive Rebound Percentage- 21.6
Defensive Rebound Percentage- 27.2
Assist Percentage- 13.4
Turnover Percentage- 13.8
Assist-to-Turnover Ratio- 0.7
Block Percentage- 7.2
Steal Percentage- 0.5
Free Throw Rate- 50.4
Two Point Percentage- 60.7
Three Point Percentage- 0.0 (0 Attempts)
If there’s one thing that stands out for Edey, it’s the lack of the three-ball. That’s a joke. Seriously, Zach had a heck of a season analytically. His 21.6 Offensive Rebounding Percentage led the NCAA. His 27.2 Defensive Rebounding Percentage ranked seventh. He came in at 57th in Blocks Percentage. For players with a Minutes Percentage over 70, Edey came in at 30th in Effective Field Goal Percentage, and 26th in True Shooting Percentage. He also came in at 67th in free-throw rate. Let’s take a look at some queries about how Edey stacks up against others in specific fields.
Minutes Percentage- At least 70
BPM- At least 10
There are only nine names that populate this BT search: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Tylor Perry, Ryan Kalkbrenner, Marcus Sasser, Brandon Miller, Brandin Podziemski, Jalen Pickett, and Darius McGhee. Perry and McGhee had great seasons, but neither have been mentioned in the draft space as potential draft picks. The others? Absolutely. Jackson-Davis, Sasser, and Miller have all been mentioned frequently as first round talents, while Podziemski and Kalkbrenner have teetered between late-first to somewhere in the second rounders. Picket has been largely viewed as an undrafted player, but has had moments during the season where many in the draft space have openly pondered his ranking. Edey falls in the “Podziemski and Kalkbrenner” range for most. Let’s run another.
Minutes Percentage- At least 70
Offensive Rating- At least 125
Block Percentage- At least 5
There are only two names that appear: Ryan Kalkbrenner and Zach Edey. Let’s look at how Edey compares historically to the others that have come before him.
Minutes Percentage- At least 70
BPM- At least 10
The exact formula we ran earlier that produced only two prospects now yields a whopping 18 players since 2008: Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, Victor Oladipo, Keegan Murray, Brandon Clarke, Otto Porter, Frank Kaminsky, Michael Beasley, Jae Crowder, Denzel Valentine, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Sindarius Thornwell, Delon Wright, Thomas Walkup, Mario Chalmers, Gary Clark, and Zach Edey. What a list! The majority are names that have made names for themselves in the NBA, which may suggest where we should have a player like Zach Edey. Let’s run one more.
Minutes Percentage- At least 70
Offensive Rating- At least 125
Block Percentage- At least 5
Again, another query we ran earlier, but this time against the entire BT database. Check out the names that are keeping Zach Edey company here: Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, Deandre Ayton, Keegan Murray, Brandon Clarke, Gary Clark, Ryan Kalkbrenner, Jameel Warney, Brice Johnson, Sha’markus Kennedy, Josh Harrellson, and Ryan Rossiter. This time there is more of a mix of NBA mainstays, some cups of coffee, and some very good college players. Even if this is considered to be a “step down”—to include some players that didn’t make it / didn’t work in the NBA—there are still some great names to be in the same breath as when you talk about what Zach has done.
In an attempt to not bore those who are “film nerds” any more than possible, let’s get into the footage.
Zach Edey has made the most of his opportunities on offense this season. Synergy grades him out in the 96th percentile (Excellent) on overall offense. Within the halfcourt, he ranks in the 97th percentile (Excellent). Would you be shocked to find out that he only was credited with eight total transition possessions? As shocking/humorous as that number may be, Zach scored 1.250 points per possession—which is more than he registered in the halfcourt (1.135 points per possession).
You’ll have a hard time finding someone that has a better success rate converting as the roll man in pick-and-roll sets. This is made evident by his 100th percentile ranking in said set. That’s with him scoring 1.690 points per possession, by the way. Despite his frame and the perception that comes with a player being built the way that he is, Edey has shown he’s fairly versatile operating mostly as an “arm’s reach” type of scorer.
If we know anything about the NBA, is that switchability is all the rage. There’s no denying that it is important to be able to make timely trades of assignment, but one way that a team can punish teams for a “switch everything” scheme is by inserting a behemoth like Edey. In what is really a simple play, we see Purdue bringing the ball up the floor. After a few handoffs, the ball ends up in the hands of Braden Smith (#3). As soon as Braden catches the ball, Edey is in position to set a solid screen on his right. Wisconsin’s Chucky Hepburn (#23) ends up on the wrong end of this exchange. He has to fight hard to get around our guy and try to recover back to Edey, who seals off the 6’2” guard deep in the paint, and finishes with a two-handed dunk off a clean post spin.
Athleticism vs. feel. This is a matchup—a heavyweight bout of a matchup in philosophy—that will be a point of conversation for the foreseeable future. If there is one trait—one aspect that people will point out in Zach Edey’s game is the mobility. While Edey isn’t the fleetest of foot or the most twitchy athlete, his size is a great compensatory measure that he employs to make up for it. If you notice, Edey is going to start this play on defense in a 16-second clip. As Penn State misses this shot, Zach gets his legs pumping to transition to the offensive side of the floor. As Ethan Morton (#25) brings the ball up the floor, Edey gets into position to screen from him on the right side of the floor. Morton kicks it to the left side of the floor to Smith, and Edey goes and sets a screen for him. As the Penn State defense swarms Smith, Edey makes a dive to the rim.
What’s interesting about this play is that Penn State’s Caleb Dorsey (#4) gets to the restricted area to challenge Zach. Smith throws the lob anyway. Standing on two feet outside of the restricted arc, Edey rises up over Dorsey, catches the ball with two hands, and finishes over the defense. This play doesn’t scream amazing, athletic prowess, but it does show that Zach is a solid mover with proper body control and coordination, that can finish off of the floor.
Do not let Edey’s screen game lull you to sleep! One of the best aspects of a screen game is its unpredictability. Knowing when to screen a player out of their shoes, or when to make a timely cut while a defender hardens up to absorb contact is a severely underrated skill set. In this matchup against Michigan State, we see Purdue work a few handoffs to confuse the defense. While the Boilermakers display some sleight-of-hand, Morton runs the ball to Brandon Newman (#5) on the left side of the court, with Zach in tow. The defense is expecting a jaw-jarring screen from Edey—waiting for his feet to get set. Since Edey isn’t a shooter, the defense is looking to front Newman on his drive with the help defense responsible for building a wall in front of Edey.
Zach changes things up. As he takes a few steps toward Newman, the defense tries to be proactive in what they anticipate. Edey counters with a sharp cut to the rim, where there is not any help in position. Newman throws a nice pass to Edey at the left elbow, and our guy finishes with a nice two-handed throwdown.
As we discussed earlier, Edey is one of the most consistent offensive rebounders in all of college hoops. There have been those that have knocked a player’s level of skill—simplifying their success by being tall. On the opposite side of this coin is the philosophy: “You can’t teach size.” This is especially true for Zach Edey and what it allows him to do while being close to the basket. Zach is in the 68th percentile (Very Good), converting 1.210 points per possession.
In a matchup against Indiana, Edey puts his size and mass-ivity (I made up a word; sue me) on display. This clip starts with Newman having the ball at the top of the key. Edey works his way to the block, while Newman puts up a jumper. The Hoosiers’ Race Thompson—who is listed at 6’8” and 228 pounds on Sports Reference College Basketball—has the dubious task of battling Zach on the glass. Edey seals him away from the board, grabs the rock, shimmies his way around a couple of defenders, and flushes it home.
Another example of Edey’s nose for the ball following a teammate’s miss here. Caleb Furst (#1) misses the free throw attempt on this clip, and we have Iowa’s Filip Rebraca (#0)—standing at 6’9” and 230 pounds per Iowa’s website—taking on Zach Edey on the boxout. Rebraca actually does a good job of keeping Zach from getting right at the basket on the boxout, but our guy displays great ball-tracking ability on the offensive glass. With one hand, Edey is able to gain control of the ball and go to work on the block. After one power dribble, he is able to go directly into a post hook. His feathery touch and hilarious reach guides the ball into the hoop, giving his team an extra possession and two points.
While we can somehow scoff at what we just saw, making points about the size of the players he is gaining rebounds over, there is one thing that needs to be remembered: Zach Edey is going to be as big as he is now playing in the NBA. The competition positionally will be taller on a night-to-night basis, and more athletic as well, there are still players at his position that will be at a physical disadvantage lining up opposite of him.
The post-up big is dying, right? Sure. But somehow, simultaneously, there are still big men that are granted permission to take their matchup to task on the block. Joel Embiid has had over 300 post-up possessions this season. Nikola Jokic has had over 350 post-ups. Bam Adebayo has had over 170. Deandre Ayton has had over 250 post-ups. Jakob Poeltl has had over 65. Myles Turner has had over 130.
Those are some of the more predominant names that exist at the center position, sure. What about some of the backups? Al Horford spent 7% of his possessions posting up. Onyeka Okongwu spent 6% doing it. Kelly Olynyk spent 4%. Isaiah Hartenstein spent 3%. The point being is that even though the post-up isn’t the most featured play type in the NBA, there are still opportunities for players to have some plays allotted for advantages. We’ve seen that Edey is still going to have a role as a role man in the NBA, he can punish teams for sleeping on him on the block. On over 400 post-up plays Edey ranked in the 83rd percentile (Excellent), scoring 1.014 points per possession within that play type.
The first thing I want to point out is the matchup that Zach Edey is going up against in this clip. Cliff Omoruyi (#11) is the Rutgers big man. He is listed at 6’11” and 240 pounds—not unlike many of the big men in the NBA. He’s also quite talented (a Top 80 prospect on my personal board). As Purdue is getting set on this play, Edey and Cliff are starting at the left block. Edey doesn’t move from his starting position all that much, but Cliff is constantly moving in an attempt to prevent Zach from getting deep position. When Mason Gillis (#0) gets the ball at the top of the key, the Rutgers defense has to shift its help over. That leaves Cliff in front of Edey. The ball swings to David Jenkins (#14) on the left wing. Edey uses his footwork, strength, and body positioning to keep Cliff on his left hip while sealing an open passing window for Jenkins. Jenkins hits Edey on the block.
Our guy goes right to work against Cliff, but Paul Mulcahy (#4) slides down to help slow him down. Edey is able to go right into a baby hook as he spins to the lane and keeps Cliff away from being able to contest the shot.
What makes the post-up in the NBA less used across all players is the amount of time it can take to develop a favorable look. This is why the player that have a ton of possessions in this play type are typically the better players in the NBA. But, as we saw, even role players are able to have some reps in this set. It’s about advantage creation. What creates advantages? Matchups and timing. Observe.
This clip takes ten total seconds from cradle to grave, and only five seconds off of the shot clock. The biggest thing to look at here is the biggest player. Edey sets a screen for Fletcher Lover (#2), who gets the ball to Gillis. Gillis finds our guy on the block against Penn State’s Michael Henn (#24). Zach goes to his patented baby hook with utter surety that it will fall. It does, in fact, fall.
This is where the evaluation for Edey begins to get a little choppy. As dominant as he has been on offense, his defense isn’t at the level of some of the bigs in this class. That’s not to say he isn’t good at some aspects, but he isn’t an anchor, to put it bluntly. That limits him and places a cap on his stock to many. Centers just have to be able to serve as a consistent deterrent, or they find themselves in a position where they are a rotational piece—which still can be valuable.
We know that defensive stats and analytics aren’t perfect. They typically speak to a team deficiency to some degree. We also know, however, that defensive stats and analytics are kinder to centers. That is because they are largely responsible for the overall success of the defense due to their role. Disclaimer: that isn’t saying it’s always the case. That, of course, would be silly.
That being said, Zach Edey is graded out in the 48th percentile (Average) in overall defense. While one could talk themselves into being good with average, there begins to have some doubts creep into your mind when projecting how scalable that “average” can be with there being such a difference in the level of players that will be attacking Edey when he is on the floor.
Edey has to play to his strengths in the pick-and-roll, and he is going to have to take away the rim. We’ll look at the away-from-the-rim stuff in a second, but Edey has the tools to be a good rim deterrent. In this game against Minnesota, we see Purdue miss a chance to get some points and get back on defense. As Taurus Samuels (#0) gets the ball past halfcourt, Minnesota has one guy—Joshua Ola-Joseph (#1)—in the paint, covered by Edey. Samuels gets into a handoff with Jamison Battle (#10), who then fires a nice pass to a cutting Dawson Garcia (#3).
With Ola-Joseph on the left block, Garcia has a lane to attack the middle of the defense and puts Edey in a vulnerable position. At least, hypothetically. Garcia is met at the rim and has to shoot over a stretched-out Zach Edey. Garcia then tries to wrap around Edey to use the rim as some separation, but the pressure our guy puts on the shooter proves to be too much. The shot is missed, then corralled by the big man.
The reason that Edey must be a significant rim deterrent is that he does not have the requisite burst to recover onto his man when they space the floor. We see in this clip against Ohio State that the Buckeyes are looking to force Edey to help on the ball-handler in order to leave the screener open on the perimeter. Sean McNeil (#4) is able to Lover, to which Edey has to help on the drive. That leaves Eugene Brown (#3) open on the perimeter. Brown simply misses.
With the 24 misses with Zach defending the roll man, 13 of those misses are with the screener left open on the perimeter. Those frontcourt players missing open jumpers are not going to translate well to the next level. Edey will not be able to sag off his assignments to the level of what he has done in college.
In one of the biggest upsets in March Madness, FDU was able to topple Purdue. One of the last plays of the game is a good microcosm of the skepticism that is present with Edey’s defense. Grant Singleton (#4) has the ball at the top of the key and gets into the two-man game with Sean Moore (#11). Singleton puts pressure on the defense, where Edey slides down to help. That leaves Moore alone behind the three-point line, and he nails the open jumper. This is the type of play that could hurt Zach in terms of finding consistent, real minutes on a team.
Edey being able to use his physical advantages is going to be what teams will need to allow when he is out on the court. While Edey’s recovery speed needs to improve, his build will allow him to challenge some of the bigger post threats in the NBA when they decide to take him on the block. When defending the post, Synergy ranks Zach in the 84th percentile (Excellent)—allowing only 33.3% on such shots.
Going back to the game against Rutgers, Edey is going against Cliff again. Rutgers goes to some handoff action to isolate Omoruyi on the right block. Cliff is able to dribble toward the lane on Zach, giving the impression that he is going to potentially float a hook over Edey. Instead, after a slight fake, Cliff spins baseline and attempts to get a quick lay in over our guy. Edey is able to get a piece of the ball and forces a shot clock violation.
You can’t talk about a big like Zach Edey without the preface: “He was born in the wrong era,” or “20 years ago, he goes Top 10.” That may be true, but he is here now—playing in a game that still needs big men, but not fully in the ways that make Zach Edey such a handful in college. Having said that, his touch around the rim is good. His size makes his moves more difficult to stop. His rebounding will end possessions and create extra ones out of thin air.
Defensively, there is a lot to be desired. But, at a certain point, you can’t refuse to take a player because they aren’t as complete across multiple skills. The abilities that Edey does have can yield positive results at his position—particularly in the regular season. While skepticism exists, taking Zach in the Second Round could be a move that can expand the depth of the Center position. Edey does have the option to get feedback and return to school, so there is no need for him to settle on a range that isn’t what he’s looking for in the draft.
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